In the book, The Insanity of God, author and missionary Nik Ripken recounts his first meeting with the International Missions Board (IMB), the missionary sending arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Nik, newly married to his college sweetheart, was young in his faith, having decided to follow Jesus just a few years before. His young wife had felt a call to the mission field from an early age and Nik was willing and ready to accompany her wherever the Lord would lead them. As Nik recounts the story, he recalls the missions board probing him with questions as they decided whether or not the SBC would sponsor them as missionaries on the field. Nik answered questions about his faith and background, but wasn’t able to satisfy the board member with his explanation about “being called into missions.”
Finally, in frustration Nik explained with a twinge of annoyance that he had decided to follow Jesus—and Jesus said in John 15:14 that if we loved Him we would keep His commandments. Haven’t you read Matthew 28:19, “’Go therefore into all the world…?’ he asked. Doesn’t that apply to all of us? Isn’t that our calling?” Nik was incredulous and he was right. It’s possibly the best and worst answer ever given to the IMB, and Nik and his wife have served faithfully for decades and sacrificed tremendously for the gospel around the world.
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While planning and preparing for a short-term mission trip to Ethiopia I began recruiting a team of people that I wanted to join me. My friend Larry said he’d “pray about it.” While praying about things is good, it instantly reminded me of Nik’s story. I began to notice that people, myself included, usually default to “no,” rather than “yes,” when asked to join in things that are costly, uncomfortable, difficult, or unknown, by saying things like, “I’ll think about it”, or, “I’ll pray about it”, or, “Maybe.”
While prayer is always to be a part of every large decision a believer faces, for most of us, “I’ll pray about it,” is a cover for true feelings of fear, uncertainty, or apprehension. Our first thought is rarely, “What would Jesus do?”, or “What does the Bible say about this?”, or “What would a true disciple of Jesus do or say in this situation?” But rather, our first thought begins with I, me, my and how we are affected. Our default is usually me‑centric, not kingdom‑centric.
In his desire to follow his Savior and Lord, Nik had rightly concluded that all believers were called to be obedient to God’s Word—all of it, whether they enjoyed it or not. He believed that when he decided to follow Jesus, he decided to be obedient to His leading through the words He had left us when He went back to Heaven. Nik believed that obedience was a choice, not a special calling.
Being obedient is a choice, not a feeling. And I have realized that in my own life, I don’t always feel like being obedient. Often the things I want to do are not obedient. Jesus said in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Obedience is the hallmark of true Christianity, the mark of true discipleship. One cannot be a true follower of Jesus without striving to be obedient to all that He taught. To live a life of partial obedience is to say, “I sort-of trust Jesus. I have given Him some of my life, but not all of it.”
To receive the free gift of salvation we must choose to follow Jesus. Following Jesus means that 1.) He leads and 2.) we follow. To give your life to Jesus means He determines what is acceptable, required, and necessary and we follow His leading in obedience.
The Bible says that there is no sin that is not covered by Jesus’ death on the cross, except one, denying the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32). Jesus said the Holy Spirit, whom He also called the Spirit of Truth, the Helper, and the Counselor, was given to mankind to reveal the truth about Jesus (John 14:26, 16:13). The Holy Spirit is literally God dwelling in us (Acts 10:45-47). To deny the Spirit is to deny God, the work of Jesus, and His desire to live among His people. If you acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life and receive the indwelling of His Spirit then you are indeed saved from your sins. However, those who choose to do this are those who choose to be obedient to the commandments of Jesus, His son. When we choose not to be obedient, we essentially say that we intellectually assent to the truth of Jesus and His power to save, without really surrendering our own will to His leading. Christian disobedience says, “I believe in Jesus, but I am choosing to live my own life, my way.” It calls into question the very salvation we claim to hold so dear.
We all struggle with something. The apostle John wrote to the faithful in Jerusalem in 1 John 1:6–10,
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
John’s words have served for centuries to remind God’s people that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and if we are faithful to repent, that is, to turn from our sins, God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross covers over all that we have done. But we must choose to be obedient and turn from our sin.
Addictions are powerful neurobiological things. Many people feel powerfully addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, anger, greed, and many other things. But there is infinite hope! Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but one of power and love and self-control.” The power of the Holy Spirit inside of a believer is the power one needs to overcome the strongest temptations and desires to be disobedient. But we must choose obedience. Obedience is always a choice, never a feeling. It’s not always what we “want to do” or “feel like doing,” and it’s often not easy. But as followers of Jesus, we must choose obedience.
Labeling it an “addiction”, or “habit”, or “character trait” does not absolve us of our responsibility to give our sin over to the Lord and let Him shape us and refine us until we are free of our natural and sinful desires. He has given us the power through His Holy Spirit to accomplish this if we are willing to try. But you will have to want Jesus more than you want your sin and the temporal enjoyment that comes with it. It may mean seeking outside help. It may mean swallowing your pride and confessing your struggle to a battle-buddy or friend. It may mean changing your friends, your job, or getting rid of your phone, your computer, or your TV. It may mean seeking professional help. But freedom from sin always begins with a choice to be obedient to God’s Word and Jesus’ commandments—and it’s worth it!
You may have tried to give up the things that have ensnared you in the past. I know I tried for years to give up some of my areas of disobedience only to slip back into my old ways time and again. It’s hard, really hard. Jesus told us in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” It will never be easy, but we are more than conquerors through Jesus, and you have the ability to overcome through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you follow Jesus, you have the Spirit of power, love, and self-control (2 Tim 1:7).
This power inside may seem weak and anemic from disuse, but God’s Word promises us the power of the Holy Spirit and that if we resist the Devil—he will flee. Like our muscles or our lungs, we must train often to strengthen our resolve and perfect our self-control. Obedience is never about what we want to do; it’s always about what we choose to do and it takes practice and dedication.
We must choose to exercise our obedience because we love Him, and we want to seek after Him in order to become more and more like Him, and because He commands it as the mark of a true follower. You may stumble and fall, you may fail as you attempt to live in obedience, but keep persevering. As you continue to fight, you will get stronger. As you resist the Devil, he will flee from you (James 4:7). You are already an overcomer because you follow the One who has overcome it all, and He has promised you the power to succeed.